In this YA novel, a teenager grows up in a tough inner city.
Thirteen-year-old Naz Andersen lives in a part of the city known as the Exclave, a place filled with the nightly sounds of “a dog barking relentlessly, sporadic gunfire, sirens in the distance.” Living in foster care with his little sister, Meridian “Meri” Liberty Slaughter, Naz endures a life full of trials and peculiarities. A lover of chess, his own hair, and dreaming, Naz often sleepwalks at night and hears voices during the day. While Naz gets therapy to attempt to sort out such issues, he is not so sure it is working. The Exclave is, after all, not the ideal location for teenage introspection. Living in a place awash with “incessant violence,” Naz and his friend Ham become wounded in an altercation with gang members. Although Naz’s injury is not serious, he is haunted by the interaction, particularly as it proves to not be his last confrontation. Meanwhile, Naz hopes Meri will enter the prestigious International Academy, a “private school outside of the Exclave.” Will Naz and Meri manage to transcend their circumstances? While the idea of a place like the Exclave is not particularly inventive, Naz makes for an imaginative protagonist. As Winston’s (IA: B.O.S.S., 2015) book progresses, Naz uncovers more that sets him apart from his peers, including revelations about his past and his potential for the future. His journey of self-discovery is, however, slowed by extraneous information. Naz manages to make some money by transporting goods among local stores (known as the Market Merchants) to ensure needed items are in stock. It is a job that proves no more fascinating to read about than to accomplish, particularly as the reader is told how Naz came up with such an occupation, ending with the summation that four stores “hired Naz as a supply link to make sure they stayed supplied through the sharing of resources and settling up once a week.” Of much greater interest is a teenager who, despite his love of chess, won’t play for the school team because “it’s too easy.” Will such a boy one day escape from the Exclave and what will he be like when he does?
This urban tale features an intriguing hero, albeit one hampered by unnecessary details.